In a closely contested battle for first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference women’s basketball standings, #2 Westmont (9-0 4-0 GSAC) outlasted Hope International (9-2, 4-1) by a score of 73-70 on Thursday evening.

The game marked the first time that Kirsten Moore faced a former player as the opponent’s head coach. Jessica Case, who played for the Warriors from 2006-2010, was named to lead the Royals’ program in September.

“I am so proud of Jessica and what she is doing with this group,” said Moore. “She has such a talented group and has them playing so well. They are enjoying the game, playing hard and playing with confidence. I am proud of what she has done with them and, obviously, they showed that tonight in how they played us.”

The Warriors jumped out to a 4-0 lead to start the game on a jumper by Laila Saenz (9 points, 3 rebounds) and a layup by Sydney Brown (18 points, 11 rebounds). However, the Royals responded with a 10-0 run to take a six-point lead. Westmont got back on the scoreboard with another jumper by Saenz, but was unable to completely close the gap in the opening frame. At the end of the first quarter, Hope International held a 22-18 lead.

“Syd didn’t miss a shot in the first half while we were struggling,” pointed out Moore. “She was five for five in the first half, had a ton of rebounds and ended up with a double-double.”

The Royals held on to the lead throughout the second quarter, leading by as much as 12 points (34-22) with 3:25 to play before intermission. In the final three minutes of second-quarter play, the Warriors produced a 12-2 run to pull within two points (36-34) of the Royals at halftime. 

Kate Goostrey (27 points, 5 rebounds) started the run with a triple from the left side. It was Westmont’s 15th attempt from beyond the arc and its first successful one. 

Destiny Okonkwo (5 points, 7 rebounds) continued the run when she hit a jumper from the top of the key to make the score 34-27. Then, Brown received a pass from Saenz and hit a turn-around jumper to pull within five (34-29).

With 1:04 before the break, Goostrey dribbled to her right, stepped back and hit another 3-pointer, making the score 34-32. After the Royal’s Jeanette Fine (12 points, 7 rebounds) scored on a jumper to make the score 36-32, Goostrey drained a shot from the key to complete the first-half scoring.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t do well in the first half, especially,” said Moore, “but the rally to finish the half was huge. The way we came out in the second half with a different focus and execution level, with the adjustments we made was a really good job.”

Westmont opened the second half with a 12-0 run. After Saenz drained a three from near the baseline to start the third-quarter scoring, Goostrey connected on three 3-point bombs on back-to-back-to-back Warrior possessions. The result was a Westmont 10-point lead (46-36) just three minutes into the third quarter.

“Kate stepped up when we were struggling offensively,” noted Moore. “She is an ultimate competitor and to see her catch fire putting the ball in the basketball was so great.”

After Hope International responded by scoring the next five points, Westmont scored the next seven points to take its largest lead of the game (53-41). Goostrey hit a pair of free throws, then knocked down her sixth triple of the game. Brown completed the run with a fast-break layup.

By the end of the penultimate period, however, Hope International had narrowed Westmont’s advantage to just three (55-52).

The Royals produced a 12-3 run to take a six-point lead (64-58) four minutes into the final frame. Then, Brown outmaneuvered her defender in the paint to score on a layup and pull Westmont within four (64-60). Berberabe made it a two-point game when she drove the length of the floor before scoring on a pull-up jumper. Just 20 seconds later, Berberabe grabbed a defensive rebound, drove the floor, and pulled up in the lane to tie the game at 64 with 3:20 to play.

After Shiane Talley (31 points, 10 rebounds) restored the lead to the Royals on a jumper, Goostrey connected on her seventh 3-pointer of the game to put the Warriors up 67-66. Talley regained the lead once more with a pair of free throws, making the score 68-67 with 2:40 to play.

Talley connected on one of two free throw attempts before Brown grabbed the lead back for Westmont when she hit a 20-foot jumper with 2:26 remaining. One minute after that, Saenz took a shot from 21 feet that bounced on the rim, then fell through the hoop to give Westmont a 71-68 lead.

Fine pulled the Royals to within one point with 1:06 to play when she drained two free throws. After a miss on the Warriors’ next possession, Berberabe pilfered the ball to regain possession for Westmont. Goostrey missed on a 3-point attempt, but grabbed her own rebound. Berberabe ended up with the ball and was fouled with three seconds remaining.

Berberabe sank both shots to make the score 73-70 and Case called her final timeout to talk with her team. The ball was advanced to Hope’s front court, but the Warriors had fouls to give. Berberabe committed the first foul when the ball was inbounded, leaving 2.0 seconds on the clock. 

On the next inbound pass, the ball was received by Talley in the corner. Talley was fouled by Aleena Cook (4 points, 3 rebounds) and the Royal’s bench pleaded for a shooting foul. However, the officials ruled that Talley had been fouled before she was in the act of shooting.

With 0.8 seconds to play, the Royals once again got the ball to Talley who got off a three-point shot. However, the ball bounced off the rim and into the hands of Okonkwo as the final horn sounded.

“We showed our experience and our resolve,” said Moore. “We beat a good, tough team that was playing well on their home court and we made plays down the stretch. That shows our experience in finding a way, even when it wasn’t easy. Down the stretch there were so many little plays that ended up making the difference.”

With the win, Westmont now sits atop the GSAC standings with a half-game lead over Hope International. The Warriors will next be in action on Saturday when they host the Lions of 15th-ranked Vanguard (6-1, 2-1).

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

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